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by H. Crosthwaite



ACCORDING to Heraclitus, "Thunderbolt steers the Universe. '' We have seen evidence that this was the general view in the ancient world of Greece and Rome. Having begun this study with chthonic forces, we need now to pay more attention to the sky, which was vitally important in ancient thought as the place where action was taken to create cosmos, order, out of chaos.

The main features of the Greek myths dealing with cosmogony are: marriage of earth and sky; production of a succession of monsters and giants; a succession of gods; theomachy (battles of gods with gods and with giants and monsters); allocation of spheres of influence; interference with the earth by extraterrestrial bodies and forces.

The overall picture has much in common with myths from all over the world. It is important to note that these myths appear at first as history; only later were they interpreted by Greeks and then by modern scholars as anthropomorphic descriptions of natural phenomena, or projections of human psychic activities.

The followers of Orpheus taught that the start of the order of the world as they knew it was Aither, upper air, and Chaos, yawning gulf. Night and the wind produced an egg, and from the egg emerged a shining creature, Eros, whose name means love. (Night was the first to prophesy at Delphi as we shall see later). Eros was the same as Phanes, the revealer. Phanes created the first gods. The Greek word theos, god, is probably derived from the word thein, to run. The alternative derivation is from tithemi, put, set in order. An alternative version, leaving out the egg, is given by Hesiod, a Greek poet active in probably the 8th century B. C.. The gods were created by the mating of Ouranos and Gaia, or Ge, the earth.

The first god is Ouranos. The usual translation 'sky' or 'heaven' can be misleading. Even as late as the time of the pre-Socratic philosophers (c. 500 B. C.), we have a reference to numerous ouranoi or heavens. We should bear in mind the earlier Greek version which tells us that Ouranos was a god in the sky.

Ouranos and Gaia had numerous offspring, e. g. the Titans, six sons and six daughters, whose name implies straining and reaching. Their names were: Okeanos, Koios, Kreios, Hyperion, Iapetos, Kronos, Theia, Rheia, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe and Tethys. Of these, Kronos and Iapetos were the most important; at any rate, they are mentioned together by Homer [1] . At first they all lived in the sky, later they were ejected from heaven.

Gaia and Ouranos produced the Cyclopes, huge one-eyed creatures, and the hundred-handed monsters.

Ouranos had imprisoned his children in Tartarus, the world far below the earth, and their mother Gaia instigated a revolt. Ouranos was displaced by his son Kronos, who castrated his father and ruled in his place. The Romans knew him as Saturnus. Kronos heard that he would be displaced by one of his sons, so he decided to devour them at birth. His wife, Rhea, prevented him from swallowing his son Zeus by giving him a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, and sent the infant to Crete to be brought up in a cave in a mountain. Kronos (according to Diodorus, Zeus) fought with and defeated a monstrous snake called Ophioneus. After his victory he wore a crown.

Zeus banished his father and became ruler of Olympus. He himself had to defeat three revolts. The first was by the Titans. The second was by the sons of Aloeos in Thessaly. Otus and Ephialtes piled Mount Ossa on Mount Olympus, and Pelion on Ossa, in an attempt to storm heaven. The third revolt was by the giants.

In all these battles, Zeus won with the help of the aegis (a goatskin) and the thunderbolt.

Zeus defeated a monster named Typhoeus or Typhon. It had a hundred snake heads and fiery eyes. Zeus attacked it with thunderbolts and sent it down to Tartarus.

Typhon corresponds to Set in Egyptian myth. Set murdered and cut into pieces his brother Osiris. Osiris was avenged by his son Horus. Horus defeated Set, but lost an eye in the process.

Firmly established at last, Zeus divided the universe into spheres of influence. He himself had the sky, Poseidon had Ocean, and Hades the underworld: The subsequent history of the Olympian gods is the family history of Zeus, who fathered Apollo, Hermes, Athene, and many others.

There was an old Egyptian saying: A god must die when he has seen his son.

The Greek deities tended to be classified in male-female groups. For example, there was an archaic altar at Athens showing twelve deities: Zeus-Hera, Poseidon-Demeter, Apollo-Artemis, Ares-Aphrodite, Hermes-Athena, Hephaestus-Hestia.

Two great floods, that of Deucalion, and that of Ogyges, were sent by Zeus to punish the human race for its wickedness. The sea is described as a "tear of Kronos" in Plutarch's Isis and 0siris, 364. The source of the floods may well be the waters above the firmament; vide Old Testament: Genesis 1: 7.

The succession Ouranos --Kronos --Zeus has a parallel in Hittite myth, where it is Anu, Kumarbi (Kronos), and the storm god Zas. Anu had previously driven out Alalu, the first king of heaven. At Ugarit, on the Asian shore opposite Cyprus, the succession was El, a god with characteristics of a bull; Baal, son of El, the 'rider of the clouds'; and Hadad, god of lightning and the thunderbolt. Hadad, can mean 'The Torch', from Greek das, daidos, torch.

The brothers and sisters of Zeus were Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Demeter and Hera.

The snake or dragon figures largely in world mythology, and calls for further study before we can proceed. 'Chronos', which means 'time, ' in classical Greek, was a primary cosmic figure, who was personified as a winged snake with many heads. The Babylonian monster Tiamat was a many-headed dragon, according to some reports. It is possible that it resembled a goat.

In the Bible, Rahab and Leviathan are serpents, enemies of Yahweh, who destroyed them.

"Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength; thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. Thou brakest the heads of Leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness'' [2] .

Can there be here a reference to manna? Which waters are referred to?

"The Lord shall punish Leviathan the piercing serpent, even Leviathan that crooked serpent, and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea'' [3] .

In Akkadian myth there is a battle between Marduk and Tiamat. In Hittite tradition it is between Zas and Illuyankas. At Ugarit the snake is Lotan, slain by Baal. In Indian myth the serpent is defeated by Vishnu. In Norse myth the fight is between the snake and Thor.

Blood is shed liberally in these myths. Anath slays the enemies of Baal and wades in their blood; in Egyptian myth Hathor kills the enemies of Re, and Mount Haemus in Thrace is spattered with the blood of Typhon as Zeus pursues and kills him. Horus cuts Apep, Ra's enemy, with a flint knife. The river ran red in Egypt at the time of the Exodus.

Before we leave this short and incomplete account of cosmic myths, we may note that Ocean and Night were two of the earliest cosmic entities. Okeanos should not be confused with pontos, or thalassa, two Greek words for sea. Homer, Iliad 14: 200, reads: ''to visit Okeanos, the source (genesis) of gods, and mother Tethys." Okeanos is to be located in the sky, as the '" waters above the firmament," Genesis I. Anath is female, a sister of Baal; Isis is the wife of the murdered Osiris, and in Greek myth there is a goddess, Athene, who was a sky goddess, sharing the aegis with Zeus.

It is worth devoting further study to the eastern connection at this point. There were Bacchic revels in Thebes. In Egypt, Thebes is 'Waset'. The Greek word astu, city, easily becomes waste, with the help of a diagram. The legendary origins of the Greek Thebes involve a serpent.

Kadmos was the son of Agenor, king of Tyre, the city on the coast of Phoenicia. Zeus fell in love with the sister of Kadmos, Europa, took the form of a bull, and persuaded her to climb on his back. He then swam off with her to Crete. In Crete she gave birth to Minos and Rhadamanthus.

Agent sent Kadmos to look for Europa. The Delphic oracle advised him to follow a cow which he would meet, and to found a city where it first lay down. The cow led him to a place in Boeotia, where Kadmos founded the Kadmeia, the citadel of the future city of Thebes. His companions, fetching water from a spring for a sacrifice, were killed by a dragon guarding the spring. Kadmos killed the dragon and sowed the dragon's teeth (on the advice of Athene). Armed men sprang up. He set them fighting each other by throwing a stone into their midst. All but five were killed. The five survivors, the Spartoi or 'sown men', built the Kadmeia. Kadmos taught the Boeotians to write (the Greek alphabet used Phoenician letters). He married Harmonia, a daughter of Ares and Aphrodite. Among their children were Semele and Agave. Eventually Kadmos and Harmonia turned into serpents and departed to Elysium.

After killing the serpent, Kadmos had to serve Ares for eight years. One may compare the Daphnephoria, which took place every eight years at Thebes, and the killing by Apollo of the serpent at Delphi, after which Apollo had to serve Admetus for eight years, an episode celebrated in the festival of the Stepteria.

Melampus (Blackfoot) was a famous Theban seer. At his home near Pylos he rescued and brought up some young snakes. They licked his ears, giving him understanding of the voices of birds. Later, he met Apollo, who taught him prophecy by sacrifices. The association of Apollo and snakes licking ears occurs also with the Trojan seer Helenos and with Cassandra.

Melampus was the ancestor of the kings of Argos, and of the two prophets Amphiaraus and Amphilochus. Theoclymenos, mentioned in Odyssey XV: 256, is an Apollonian practitioner. He has ecstatic visions. He too was descended from Melampus. Apollodorus, 3.17, tells how Polyidos, an observer of birds and snakes, raised Glaucus, son of Minos king of Crete, from the dead.

We will now look in closer detail at the sky, through the eyes of the Greeks and of some other peoples. The link with electricity is lightning, and a pattern may emerge if we study a representative selection of the scenes described.

An object, or objects, is described in ways that suggest a snake, a snake with wings, a horned creature, a bull, a ram, a seething pot, a stag, a horned snake, a horned owl, a goat, etc..

The Greek word drakon, a dragon, is also the aorist participle of a verb that means to see. It therefore suggests an eye. We have already seen that the Ugaritic El was bull-like. The Greek goddess Hera, wife of Zeus, is given the epithet ox-like or ox-eyed, "boopis potnia Here"[ [4] . In The Bacchae, Dionysus seems to Pentheus to have horns, and the bull leads to disaster [5] .

Turning to Akkad, we find the Akkadian monarch Naram Sin wearing, as shown on his stele from Susa, a horned cap. The Cerastae, horned people in Cyprus, were changed by Venus into bullocks [6] .

The ceremony of the Suovetaurilia at Rome was a sacrifice of a pig, a sheep and an ox. The word hecatomb reminds us that oxen were sacrificed in great numbers. At a sacrifice, an ox was a victima, a sheep was a hostia. Pigs, horses and dogs were sacrificed.

Kerastes is a horned serpent; keratias is a word occurring in Pliny, meaning a comet resembling a horn. The Dorians who entered the Peloponnese after the collapse of Mycenean civilisation worshipped a ram god, Karnos, and in the 6th century B. C., Zeus Ammon appears with ram's horns on coins of Cyrene.

Links with the Celtic World: The Celts worshipped horned deities, and Taranis, the thunderer, is the opposite number of Jupiter. Alces, Greek alkis, is the elk, and reminds us of Al, El, horns being a mark of the divine.

Much important material is to be found in Pagan Celtic Britain, by Anne Ross, Routledge, 1967.

There were two kinds of horned deity. There was an antlered god, Cernunnus, the 'horned one'. Keras is Greek for horn. He often wears a tore. His regular companion is the ram-headed or horned serpent. This often appears with the corresponding version of Mars.

The stag god is portrayed as lord of the animals, e. g. on the Gundestrüp cauldron, and may thereby have a link with Minoan Crete. There is an association with Mercury, the Roman Hermes.

The second type is of a bull-horned or ram-horned god. This also is associated with Mercury. It is commonest in North Britain, but is also found in Gaul. It is a god of war. There is an example at Maryport, Cumbria, and horned helmets have been found at Orange in France.

While on the subject of horned deities, it is worth noting that Hesychius, a 5th century A. D. writer, mentions the Greek word skorobaios as equivalent to scarabos and karabos. Karabos is a stag beetle.

Ravens were important to the Celts; they were sacred to Wotan and to Apollo.

The North British god Veteris or Vetiris has a boar and a serpent carved on his altar.

The Belgae worshipped a ram-horned god, and had bronze figures of a three-horned bull.

A dog deity Nodous was worshipped at Lydney in Gloucestershire. Dog meat was taboo for the legendary Irish hero Cuchulainn.

Celtic gods were to be placated by ritual, sacrifices and incantations. They were not immortal.

At Reinheim, near Saarbrucken, in 1954, there was discovered a burial of a queen or princess. A gold tore displayed a head of a female surmounted by an owl head like that of Minerva. Owls, including the horned owl, were sacred to Athene. In 1891 in Denmark, a cauldron, the Gundestrup cauldron, was discovered. The scene is the slaying of a huge bull.

When an Irish king was to be chosen, the men of Erin killed a bull. One man ate some of the flesh, and a spell was chanted over him in his bed. The person he saw in his sleep would become king.

The cult of the severed head in Celtic religion may be linked with the tore. Cernunnus, the antlered god, often wears a torc. He is probably the same as Hern the Hunter in British folk lore.

The Celtic for a sanctuary is nemeton, similar to the Latin nemus, a grove.

I append some passages referring chiefly to the sky and the bull, many from Homer and Vergil, some from the east.

Iliad V: 654: Hades has the epithet Klytopolos, famous for horses.

Iliad XV: 184: Poseidon is angry when Iris is sent to tell him to stop fighting. He reminds her that when the universe was divided between the three gods, the earth and Olympus were held in common.

Iliad XV: 225: The enerteroi, gods who dwell below with Kronos.

Iliad XX: In this book, the gods join the war at Troy in earnest, Poseidon versus Apollo, Athene versus Ares, Hera versus Artemis, Leto versus Hermes, Hephaestus versus Scamander (the river).

Odyssey III: 6: Poseidon the Earthshaker, of the sable locks. Odyssey VI: 42: Athene goes to Olympus, where the gods are said to have their eternal home. It is not shaken by winds, nor drenched with rainstorms or snow, but cloudless air and white radiance play over it. In it the blessed gods spend all their days in happiness.

Aeneid X: 565: Like Aegaeon, who they say had a hundred arms, and breathed out fire from fifty breasts and mouths, rattling with as many shields and drawing as many swords as Jove hurled thunderbolts, so was Aeneas on the battlefield against Turnus and his troops.

A. N. E. T. (Ancient Near-Eastern Texts, J. B. Pritchard (Princeton, 3rd Edition 1967): ''Primordial Apsu, and Mummu Tiamat. ''

Apsu is male, fresh water. Mummu is female, salt water. The Cyclops Brontes, thunderer, is one of those named as father of Athene.

Centaurs were hybristic, and self-indulgent in sexual matters. Centaur, was a slang term for pederast. Aristophanes, Clouds 346: Socrates: ''Have you ever looked up and seen a cloud looking like a centaur or lynx or wolf or bull?" "Good Lord, yes! '' Glaucopis, bright-eyed, a standard epithet of Athene, is also applied to snakes.


Yahweh controls the waters, smites Leviathan, and then creates day and night: "Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength; thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. Thou brakest the heads of Leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness. Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood; thou driedst up mighty rivers. The day is shine, the night also is shine; thou hast prepared the light and the sun. Thou hast set all the borders of the earth; thou hast made summer and winter'' [7] . At Ugarit, Baal (son of El) slays Lotan with the seven heads. In Egypt, Apophis is slain (in one text he is slain by Set). Marduk defeats Tiamat in the Babylonian version, and the Hittites, Illuyankas is slain by the storm god. Farther afield, one meets Vishnu and the serpent, the Midgard serpent, and the Chinese dragon.

Chronos (Kronos) defeats Ophioneus (ophis = snake), and wears a crown.

In a quarrel between Ares and Hephaestus, Dionysus defeated Hephaestus by means of wine, and led him to Olympus on a mule.

Mesonux: This is the name of the Midnight Planet, one of the seven planets, so named by the Pythagoreans. It is mentioned by the poet Stesichorus.

The Moirae were spinners of the thread of life and fate. In the Orphic version, they lived in Ouranos, in a cave by the pool, where white water gushes from the cave. According to Hesiod, they were daughters of Zeus and Themis.

Ophion: Eurynome and Ophion ruled over the Titans before Kronos and Rhea. They resided on Olympus.

Typhoeus: In Aeneid VIII: 298, he is described as 'towering'. PASSAGES ON VARIOUS TOPICS: THE ORIENT; BULLS; THEBES.

Iliad XX: 402 ff.: Achilles strikes Hippodamas in the back; he expires, bellowing like a bull dragged round the Lord of Helike by youths in whom the Earthshaker delights. Helike in Achaea was a centre of worship of Poseidon. The roaring of the victim is taken to mean that the god accepts the sacrifice.

Aeneid VIII: 77: Aeneas prays to the river Tiber: "O father Tiber, horned river, ruler of the waters of Hesperia ... '' Pausanias I: 34: 2: Near Oropus the earth split open to receive Amphiaraus and his chariot.

Pausanias IX: 8: 4: The Elektra Gate at Thebes is named after Elektra, sister of Kadmos. The Neistan gates were named after the last lyre string, the netes, which Amphion invented at these gates. But Amphion's brother Zethos was called Neis, and the gates may have been named after him.

Neate chorde is the lowest string (highest in pitch). Kapaneus attacked the wall at the Elektra Gate and was struck by lightning. Further instances from Pausanias: IX: 12: 2: There is an altar and statue of Athene Onka, dedicated by Kadmos.

IX: 17: 2: Near the shrine of Artemis of Fair Fame at Thebes is a stone lion.

X: 15: 3: King Attalus of Pergamum was 'Son of the Bull'; he was addressed by an oracle as son of a bull.

IV: 1: 6 f.: The Great Goddesses were worshipped at Thebes, in the oak-forest of Lykos. The Kabeiroi initiations were introduced to Thebes by Methapos.

The Golden Bough, Chapter 36: Asiatic Greeks strung up an ox in a tree and stabbed it.

Zas and Chthonie. Iliad VI: 303: Hecabe chooses her longest and richest dress, Sidonian work, as a present for Athene. Theano lays the robe on the knees of the goddess and prays for Trojan success against Diomedes.

The Anakalypteria is the Festival of Unveiling, and a time for giving the wedding presents. When the oikia, home and contents, are ready, Zas makes a fine big pharos, robe, and on it he creates Ge and Ogenos and the halls (domata) of Ogenus. (Grenfell and Hunt, Greek Papyri Series II: 11 p. 23. 3rd Century A. D.). Does Chthonie put on the robe to become Ge, or is the robe hung on the tree?

Isidorus: "So that they may learn what is the winged oak and the decorated pharos on it, all that Pherecydes theologised in allegory, taking his starting point from the prophecy of Ham. ''

But consider also the poetry of the man of Syros, and Zeus and Chthonie and the love in them, and the coming-into-being of Ophioneus and the battle of the gods, and the tree and the peplos. Maximus Tyrius: IV: 4.

I suggest that there may be a correspondence here with Yggdrasyl.

Some passages referring to the bull: Achelous. Hesiod, Theogony 340: He was a child of Tethys and Ocean.

Iliad XXI: 194: Not even the mighty Achelous can fight against Zeus.

He had a bull's horn in his forehead, like Okeanos. Herakles had broken off the other.

Pasiphae was a daughter of the sun. She married Minos, king of Crete. Poseidon made her fall in love with a bull as punishment for her husband's refusal to sacrifice to Poseidon a beautiful bull that he sent. She gave birth to the Minter, half man, half bull. It was kept in the labyrinth built by Daedalus.

The name Pasiphae means 'shining on all'. The name could well be given to a bright heavenly body such as the moon, or a comet. The story is rather similar to the story from Ugarit about Anath and Baal. An announcement is made that a wild ox is born to Baal, a buffalo to the Rider of the Clouds.

This chapter would be incomplete without reference to the relationship between Zeus and his sister-wife Hera. Their sacred marriage was celebrated each year in Crete. In Iliad XIV, Homer describes the seductive wiles of Hera when she distracts Zeus's attention so that Poseidon may help the Greeks. The fragrance of the ambrosia with which she anoints herself reaches heaven and earth (line 174), and her veil, of spun material, is as bright as the sun (line 185). When they embrace on Mount Gargaros, they surround themselves with a golden cloud, and dew rains on them (line 350). Early in Book XV, when Zeus wakes up, he is angry. He reminds her that he once fettered her and suspended her in the sky, and cast out of heaven those who had helped her. In line 26 we read of Herakles being despatched by Hera over the sea with the help of Boreas.

It seems likely that the sacred marriage aimed at restricting the god's amorous escapades, and at preventing him upsetting the cosmos by introducing additions to the Olympic family. Possibly Hera was the atmosphere round Zeus, and people feared the result of anger and separation. when Ixion tried to rape Hera, he was deceived by a cloud in the shape of Hera.

The Egyptian hra means 'face, or 'upon. '

Notes (Chapter Six: Sky Links)

1. Homer: 'Iliad= VIII: 479

2. Old Testament: Psalm, LXXIV: 13

3. Old Testament: Isaiah, XXVII: l

4. Homer: 'Iliad' VIII: 471.

5. Euripides: >The Bacchae= 1159

6. Ovid: >Metamorphoses' X: 222

7. Old Testament: Psalm LXXIV: 13-17 95 a. 96 follow.

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